Written By: Ken Hulsey
In the modern era the American railroad industry went through a series of drastic changes. Deregulation, mega-mergers and intermodal service, which ultimately saved the railroads, changed the landscape forever.
Let's take a quick look at some of the things that happened post 1980:
The Staggers Act deregulated railroads and allowed them to set their own rates for shipping services.
In the 1980s’ the Reagan Administration distanced itself from Amtrak. It was their policy that US passenger rail service should survive on its own. Amtrak as forced to pay for half their operating expenses from passenger fares. The railroad experienced more hard times in the 1990s’ and several unprofitable trains had to be discontinued. In response to all this, the railroad added several new features to rail cars such as TVs and Viewliners.
VIA likewise suffered financially during the 1980s’ and 90s’. The railroad purchased an refurbished dozens of passenger cars from US railroads. They continued to operate passenger trains in an “old-fashioned” manor with Pullman like sleeping cars and rear end observation cars. The railroad even allowed private companies to operate trains to tourist destinations.
In the 1990s’ several railroads began to merge into one another. Railroads found it more financially viable to exist as one large railroad instead of several small ones by the end of the decade there were only seven Class I railroads in the United States where once there were hundreds.
RailTex began as a railroad car leasing company. They soon started buying up small feeder railroads. Before long they owned several small railroads in the US and few in Canada and Central America. Though RailTex owns the smaller railroads they still let them operate independently.
In November 1995 the Canadian Government released all of its shares in the Canadian National on the New York, Montreal, and Toronto stock exchanges allowing the railroad to become a private company. In July 1999 the Illinois Central merged with the CN giving the railroad a major US artery, a frost free port at New Orleans and connections with Mexican railroads.
Railroading Terms - From The Modern Era (Circa 1980 - Present):
Second Generation Diesels – Developed in 1972 the EMD “Dash 2” series of locomotives provided 3,000hp with reduced emissions and improved traction control.
Engineer-less Locomotives – The use of a remote control locomotive, operated by a nearby worker, to perform switching duties.
FRED – The Flashing Rear End Device eliminated the need for a caboose on a freight train. The device monitors air brake pressure and motion and then relays the information to the engineer.
EABS – The Electronic Air Brake System is an electronic braking system designed to eliminate air brakes. The EABS is able to set the brakes on each car simultaneously via a computer in the locomotive.
Since the 1980s’ railroads have adopted environmentally friendly policies and practices in their day-to-day operations. Railroads have begun to clean up their old facilities, regulate the use of toxic substances and control the amount of pollutants that are released into the air and water.
With passing of the Stagger’s Act in 1980 the deregulation of the railroad industry made the ICC obsolete. In 1995 the government initiated the ICC Termination Act brought an end to the 109-year old commission and the “Railroad Era”.
Random Thoughts About The History Of Railroading In America:
In my opinion the building of America’s first transcontinental railroad is the most significant event. The linking of the East and West opened up the country for settlers and farmers to change the landscape of the “Great American Desert”.
Trains hold the same kind of magic that ships, planes and automobiles do. There has always been a romance about them. For myself personally, I have always been in awe of the massive size and power of trains. I suppose it is the main reason I love large steam locomotives so much. I once heard them described as “beautifully ugly” I guess that seems to fit them to a “T”. Once trains get in your blood they are there to stay.
See Also: Railroad History - Fun Facts - The Post-War Era (1945-1980)